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Paratuberculosis and Crohn's Disease: Got Milk?
by Michael Greger, MD
Updated January 2001

USDA Farce?

With the growing Johne's epidemic, US governmental regulatory agencies have been in a bind. The only thing allegedly standing between people and the paratuberculosis bacterium are 15 seconds at 72 C.[37] The government has had to somehow convince the families of Crohn's patients who started to ask questions that pasteurization was foolproof. The problem was that the preponderance of the scientific evidence was against them -- almost every study ever done simulating pasteurization conditions showed that paraTB survived the 15 seconds at 72 C.[67] So USDA scientists designed their own experiment, which they published in 1997.

Critics accuse the USDA of trying to ensure that no paraTB would survive in their pasteurization experiment by first crippling the bacteria. Very irregularly, with no precedent in the scientific literature for using this type of approach,56 the USDA describes beginning their experiment by first "starving" the MAP bacteria,[124] exposing them to high-frequency sound waves, and freezing them -- a technique that has been shown conclusively to weaken MAP.[56] They were also criticized for making a number of methodological mistakes and omissions.[18,124] Then, allegedly to make absolutely sure not a single bug would grow, they used an inadequate culture media[124] and report culturing them for only 2 to 3 months.[172] It is widely accepted that the minimum time it takes to ensure the growth of paraTB is 4 months.[124]

It is perhaps not surprising that no MAP grew from the pasteurized milk in their experiment. The researchers concluded: "Results indicate that the transmission of live paraTB bacteria via pasteurized milk is unlikely." Despite fifteen[19] years of better research to the contrary,[121] based on that single questionable study, in a letter dated February 9, 1998, Joseph Smucker, the leader of the FDA's Milk Safety Team wrote, "After a review of the available literature on this subject, it is the position of FDA that the latest research shows conclusively that commercial pasteurization does indeed eliminate this hazard."[201]

The FDA has argued that earlier pasteurization studies used unrealistically high levels of MAP that wouldn't be expected to exist naturally in the raw milk supply.[201] This is not a tenable criticism, primarily because the studies in question followed the published guidelines on the proper challenge concentration in the design of thermal inactivation studies.[57] Also, the concentration of MAP in raw milk is unknown. Cattle infected with Johne's disease have uncontrollable diarrhea, which "sprays" out from them in liquid form. Due to the close proximity of the cow's anus to her udders, it is unavoidable that an infected cow's udders will be smeared with feces, potentially leading to the contamination of her milk with high numbers of Mycobacterium paratuberculosis.[124] The feces contaminating her milk can have as many as a trillion paraTB bugs per gram.[142]

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